"Knowing the fundamentals of cooking is infinitely more important than following recipes or using 'chef-y' techniques. Not everyone wants to dedicate themselves to cooking all day, but we should all be comfortable putting together a simple meal. That's how I cook, and that's how I like to eat -- I think the basics are where it's at. What's better than roasting a chicken or side of salmon for dinner?"
-- Mark Bittman, author of "How to Cook Everything: The Basics"
After writing this book, is your cooking technique impeccable?
I still do most things "wrong" by chef standards. But my grandmother cut onions with a dull knife while holding them in her hand, and her food was just fine. I'm at least a step ahead of that -- I actually use a sharp knife and a cutting board -- but the point is that it's not about technique, it's about getting it done.
How does cooking better help you eat well?
When you cook for yourself, you have more control over what goes into your body; few things are more important. Home cooks are far more conscious of the quality of the food they eat than people who get take-out most of the time.
What's your advice for buying and cooking fish?
When shopping for salmon, try to find wild salmon -- it is the best choice for the environment and is leaner, darker, and better-tasting than farm-raised salmon. Sockeye (red) is my favorite, and king (chinook) is also terrific. The biggest mistake people make with fish is overcooking. In general, try to undercook it and you'll probably end up cooking it perfectly. Most fish are better slightly undercooked.
Essentials for Everything
Whether you're making a simple pot of rice or prepping kebabs for a crowd, Mark Bittman's book is a primer on the most efficient ways to take a dish from start to finish.
Mark's How-To Tips for Roasting Salmon
Heat the Sheet
Watch the butter in the oven: It will bubble for a few seconds, but when the foam subsides, carefully remove the sheet. Tip it to coat the bottom, then add the salmon.
Checking the Fish
Insert a paring knife between the layers of flesh to check for doneness: Salmon is dark pink or orange inside when raw, even though the outside might be opaque.
Knowing It's Done
Perfectly cooked salmon separates into big, soft flakes and has some bright pink in the center. It will continue to cook a little more out of the oven.